I’ve landed on my face, been punched in the ribs, kicked in the throat. amd I’ve even taken a shot to the “meat and two veg” (thank God for sports cups). I’ve had my pale Irish arse handed to me on a plate numerous times and, truth be told, I’m grateful for every single experience.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not referring to some sick “Fight Club” version of salsa where you not only have to keep on time with the music but you have to watch out for body blows from your partner and everyone else on the dance floor. While the thought of becoming a salsa dancing version of Tyler Durden does fill me with intrigue, I can’t see the whole movement really taking off (nobody wants bloodstains on their favorite dancing shirt).
No, I’m talking about when I used to spar competitively in karate tournaments. I appreciated sparring practice a lot; it’s a beautiful balance of speed, timing, accuracy of movement and adaptation to your partner. It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of salseros I know also have a background in martial arts. The two disciplines complement each other beautifully. On fact, there are very few differences between a well performed kata and a perfectly executed salsa combination.
I learned very early on in my karate career that if you really want to improve your sparring ability, you need to spar with partners who are better than you. If I spent the majority of my time sparring with beginners, I made very little improvement. However, if I went a few rounds with the bigger, more experienced guys in the club, I made noticeable improvements in very little time.
I loved getting to spar with my coach and the older guys who knew what they were doing. As I said, I had my arse handed to me plenty of times but I knew that every time I stepped on the floor with them, being pushed to my limits, I was getting better and better.
That all came to fruition (sort of) about three years ago, when I got my black belt and entered a regional karate tournament n southern Japan. In one of my fights, I was put up against a guy who my coach “casually” mentioned, just before I stepped on the floor, had won the world championship the year before.
I learned two very important things from that fight:
- Protective head-gear really does very little to soften a punch and…
- There is no better learning experience than going toe to toe with with your clear superior
“Your Salsa is Strong, Grasshopper”
This is something that salseros should take into account when they’re dancing.
When I was a salsa beginner, I used to spend most of my time dancing with other beginners for two simple reasons:
- I knew the other beginners from the salsa classes and we were friends
- The mere thought of dancing with the really advanced dancers made me break out in a cold sweat
This obviously meant that I wasn’t making much progress in the beginning.
My first salsa “break” came when I went on a ten day salsa vacation. I improved hugely in those ten days because I was both dancing much more regularly and dancing with seriously good dancers. It was a winning combination.
Dancing with dancers much better than yourself is one of the best ways to to up your salsa game… fast. You learn timing and rhythm, proper hand position and signaling, better body movement etc. Like I’ve always said before, the dance floor is where you really learn to dance!
Obviously, a beginner girl dancing with an advanced guy is going to improve quicker than a beginner guy with an advanced girl. This is simply because the guy has more points to master and this is the main reason that women advance in salsa much faster than men.
The Challenge Of Seeking Better Dancers
Going out and dancing with all the the great dancers that you see on the dance floor is much easier said than done, I know, but you don’t have to spend all your dances with the best in the club.
Obviously, the more great dancers you dance with, the better. However, even trying to have three or four such dances a night will go a long way to improving your game.
To do this originally, I set myself a challenge. My challenge was to find the woman that I considered to be the the best dancer in a club and ask her for a dance. I remember the first night of that challenge too.
I was in Fukuoka and my target was a salsa instructor from Colombia. I set my sights on her early in the night and it literally took me a whole night of heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and aborted attempts (imagine me walking up to ask her and then suddenly doing a 180 as soon as I got close, numerous times) before I finally asked her to dance.
When we eventually did dance, it was awesome. She responded to everything I threw at her (which, in all honesty, wasn’t really that much) and I finished the encounter feeling like a million bucks and wondering why it had taken me so long to ask her to dance in the first place.
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
We stop ourselves from leaving our nice, safe comfort zones because we focus on all the things that could possibly go wrong. We scare ourselves into believing all these terrifying disasters can happen if we take little risks. That’s no way to live.
Stepping out of your comfort zone and dancing with people who are better than you is simply one of the best things you can do to get better.
You need to remember that we get better due to necessity, due to a stimulus that tells our bodies that we need to improve. Just as someone who lifts weights heavier than he’s used to gets bigger and stronger or just like a child that is sent to school in a foreign country learns the language quickly, so too will your salsa improve when you dance with great dancers – because it needs to!
You need the stimulus of a challenge, of something more difficult than what you’re used to, in order to improve.
So, on your next night out dancing, step out of your comfort zone. Ask out a few of the best dancers you see and prepare to get a whole lot better.
Enjoyed this article? Read You NEED to be OK with Dancing like an Idiot!